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Chronicles of Recent History: Taken for Granite

Exploring the Past through Monuments

BY Liz Scott

Immortality doesn’t come easy.

Our city is full of monuments to the forgotten. We put them up in the heat of some heartfelt conviction, walk away, and after a while, they fall down.

New Orleans has more juicy history than most American cities, and probably more monuments, but there’s no comprehensive plan for their upkeep.

Some monuments fare better than others, particularly if they are privately sponsored or adopted by some civic-minded group.

One is a plaque in a white stucco wall shielding the Old Spanish Stables, an apartment complex on Gov. Nicholls Street in the French Quarter. It’s a map of nearby streets and depicts nine buildings in relief. The monument is to Clay Shaw, who renovated the buildings, “conceived and completed the International Trade Mart, was a patron of the humanities and lived his life with the utmost grace . . . An invaluable citizen, he was respected, admired and loved by many.”

The plaque was placed there by friends of Shaw and is well maintained, although it does not tell another part of Shaw’s story: He was the only man ever prosecuted in connection with the death of President Kennedy. He was found not guilty, but the trial cost him his life’s savings, his reputation and perhaps his health. He died of cancer a few years later.

A few blocks away, in a tiny pocket park where Decatur Street melds into St. Philip Street adjacent to the French Market, the statue of St. Joan of Arc glitters like a halo. The lady in golden armor and waving a golden banner is mounted on a horse atop a 13-foot pedestal. French Quarter streets are narrow, so the best way to view the statue from a distance is from the river side. When you stand next to it and look up, you can observe that the horse is male, and that Joan wore armor even on the soles of her feet. If you look at the front of the pedestal, you see that the “Maid of Orleans” lived from 1412-1431. That is all the information given about her.

However, no one could doubt that this monument is under the city’s care. There are six plaques around the pedestal, inscribed with the names of the mayor (Moon Landrieu) and everyone on the City Council when the statue was erected in 1972. Another plaque bears the name of the mayor (Marc Morial) and everyone on the City Council when the statue was moved in 1999. There are also the names of the governor (Huey Long) and his staff and the names of the mayor (Robert Maestri), the City Council and board of directors of the French Market Corp. when the French Market was renovated the first time; and the names of the mayor (Moon Landrieu) and the City Council and the board of directors of the French Market Corp. when the French Market was renovated the second time.

France donated the statue in 1964, but it remained in storage until 1972, when Mayor Landrieu placed it between what was then the Rivergate and the International Trade Mart. The park was named the Place de France, and Joan sat there astride her golden steed for 27 years. When Harrah’s Casino decided to build on the land in 1995, the company petitioned to move the statue. The Louisiana Landmarks Society went to court to stop it. Eventually casino proponents won, and Joan, who had lost some of her luster and her golden banner, was regilded, given a new banner and placed on the tiny triangle she occupies today.

For years, New Orleanians have believed the statue of Margaret Haughery on the edge of the Lower Garden District was the first statue of a woman ever erected in the United States.

But that’s not true. Lydia Schmalz, former president of the district’s Coliseum Square Association, is among those who have researched the claim.

“We found out that she’s the second,” she says. “The first one was in honor of a woman in Massachusetts [Hannah Dustin, whose monument is in the town of Haverhill], who saved a bunch of people from some Indians.”

But our Margaret is still a local favorite. Her full name was Margaret Gaffney Haughery. As a child, she emigrated from Ireland to Baltimore, where she lost both parents to a fever epidemic. After she married, she moved to New Orleans, but both her young husband and infant daughter, Frances, died.

Haughery was illiterate but had uncanny business skills. She opened a bakery and a dairy and became wealthy. She spent her money on the orphans of the city – of which there were many during that period of yellow fever – supporting seven orphanages. She was known locally as “the bread lady,” and when she died in 1882 at age 69, people donated money to build a park in her honor. It was designed in the Victorian style, with urns and ferns and a fountain and a little bridge leading to a marble statue of Haughery, depicted as a sturdy woman who wore a shawl and screwed her hair in a bun, with her arm around a cherubic youngster. Alexander Doyle, who created the statue of Robert E. Lee in Lee Circle, was the sculptor.

In 1956, the Mississippi River Bridge Authority built an entrance ramp that effectively hid Haughery’s statue from sight. The Coliseum Square Association lobbied for years to have the ramp removed. It finally came down in 1994, and the neighbors promptly set to work renovating and relandscaping Haughery’s park. The fountain is gone, but urns rest on stone pedestals on either side of a slate-and-brick entrance pathway.

The statue itself is still charming, though in need of repair. It has been damaged by pollution and acid rain, Schmalz explains. It is partially blackened by carbon deposits, and the marble is “sugaring,” or crumbling into powder. Haughery is already missing a finger, and the tot cuddled next to her is without a nose.

The Coliseum Square Association hopes to raise money for a canopy to protect Haughery from further damage and eventually to repair the existing damage. That might cost $40,000. But the members believe Haughery is worth it. Even if she is No. 2.

There’s no pathway leading to Molly Marine, the statue created by sculptor Enrique Alferez in 1943. She stands bravely on the neutral ground at Canal Street and Elks Place, enclosed by a small iron fence, surrounded by flowering plants and miscellaneous trash.

A Marine recruiting officer persuaded Alferez to sculpt it to help attract women to the Corps. Alferez, a Mexican immigrant who would go on to create innumerable public works of art, agreed to donate his talent in the name of patriotism. A professional model and four female Marines posed for the statue.

Molly, who was cast in marble chip and granite because of the wartime shortage of metal, stands 12 1/2 feet tall and is mounted on an 8-foot base. She wears a Marine uniform with a modest skirt and sensible shoes with low heels.

There is no statue of the Marquis de Lafayette in Lafayette Square, although a plaque under a magnolia tree says the tree was planted in his honor.

There are statues of Benjamin Franklin and Henry Clay in that park, though. Both need restoration. They are among numerous projects undertaken by the Monument Task Committee, a private group founded in 1989 to save the city’s monuments from vandalism and neglect. Organizer Pierre McGraw feels obligated to undertake the task. To do otherwise, he says, is to dishonor the people we once chose to honor.

For information on the Adopt-a-Monument Program, call Pierre McGraw at 897-2721.

June 2001 - Vol. 35 - Issue 9 - Page 14 - #359

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